Yesterday as I was doing the weekly shopping for my cats at their favorite pet food store, I couldn’t help noticing the older man perched on a bench outside the door. His hand was clutched around a paper coffee cup and he rocked back and forth, muttering, “The witching hour is coming…the witching hour is coming!”

I examined him out of the corner of my eye, like we all do with the homeless. He didn’t look like he lived on the streets. His clothes were clean and appropriate for the cool, wet weather; his hair and beard were neatly trimmed. I wondered if he was inspired by the idea of Halloween approaching, or if he felt he needed to sound the warning about the witching hour on a daily basis. The idea clearly haunted him.

I think most adults are haunted by something. That something might very well be the ghost of a deceased or missing person, but it can also be an old grievance, a regret, or even a horrible event that happened to perfect strangers. And I believe writers are the most haunted of all. Some of us write to exorcise those demons; others write in an attempt to silence them.

Real-life tragedies caused by malevolent people haunt me the most. I’ve written about kidnapped children, public furor gone awry due to media coverage, racist militia groups, and the ways in which innocent animals are trapped by human schemes. Most of these things I’ve learned about from media coverage, and although they happened to people I never met, they still haunt me.

Author at Pinnacle Lake, where Susanna Stodden and Mary Campbell were murdered

Many people use the word “inspiration” to mean motivation that comes from a positive influence, but much of the inspiration that writers use comes from negative sources.

My friends know that I am an avid hiker. I spend a lot of time on the trails in the mountains and forests of the North Cascades. These are normally the places where I am most happy. So it was especially haunting to me to learn about the murders of nature lovers Susanna Stodden and her mother Mary Cooper in 2006 on a hiking trail, and then, two years later, the killing of another hiker, Pamela Almli, by a negligent 14-year-old hunter.

Many years have passed, but I think about all three of these women whenever I am hiking my beloved trails. I finally wrote a novel that includes a combination of these two horrific events, in addition to another subject that is close to my heart, taking teens into the wilderness to teach them how to live without electronic devices.  I fictionalized all this, of course, to produce my fourth Summer “Sam” Westin mystery, Backcountry, in which Sam steps in as a replacement for her murdered friend to lead a group of troubled teens in a wilderness therapy program.

Writing and publishing Backcountry did not truly exorcise the demons that haunt me, because nothing has changed since these two cases occurred. The killer of Susanna and Mary is still unidentified, and it’s still legal in Washington State for 14-year-olds to hunt with only other teens for companions.

But I like to think that Susanna and Mary and Pamela would be pleased that I’m trying to tell their stories and keep their memories alive. And if their ghosts come to visit me at “the witching hour” on Halloween, I’ll be happy to spend time with them, because I know we are all kindred spirits.

The Zombie Apocalypse Continues

(Some of you may remember that I posted on this a year ago, but since then zombie disease has continued to proliferate, so I felt the need to post again.)

A couple of days ago I was out for an evening walk on one of Bellingham’s many trails. The sunset was beautiful, the air was that perfect temperature and humidity that feels soft on bare skin, birds were flitting from tree to tree, blackberries were tantalizingly ripe alongside the trail.

Two small girls, about four and six years old, passed me and skipped happily down the trail. Then I ran into an older woman and a girl about 12 or so, presumably the mother and sister of the younger kids. They had become paralyzed, blocking the trail completely, eyes glued to their cell phones. They didn’t notice the younger ones had run off, or that I was standing in front of them waiting for them to move so I could proceed.

two boys use cell phones

The young are especially vulnerable to zombie phone disease.

Cell phone zombies. I was saddened to see that this family, who had probably intended to get out and enjoy the evening in nature, had been struck down in mid-walk by this raging epidemic.

No matter where I am these days—in the grocery store, riding my bike through the local park, driving to the library—I see mesmerized humans. Head bent over a cell phone, the infected person is totally oblivious to other people, cars, wandering deer, fire engines, rampaging pit bulls—in short, anything that is happening in the real world flowing around the paralyzed victim.


Cell phone zombies don’t even see me.

Yes, the zombie apocalypse is real. And it is spreading like wildfire, through smart phones.

In its final stages, the zombie becomes totally fixated and can be confined in a closet or other small space, requiring only a charging cord attached to the cell phone clasped permanently in hand; sadly, nothing other than the sight of a phone screen will register in the victim’s brain.

Don’t let this happen to someone you love.

Many don’t realize that the zombie phone disease can be cured if caught in its early stages. All one has to do is occasionally turn off the cell phone. In many cases, the brain can heal itself by experiencing—this includes seeing, hearing, smelling, touching—actual physical surroundings.


Bridge below Table Mountain, North Cascades

Bridge below Table Mountain, North Cascades

I have become a crusader against zombie phone disease, venturing into the wilderness unplugged. This does limit my circle of friends, but it’s a sacrifice one must make to fight the apocalypse. Social media zombies in the wild are prone to walking off cliffs or being devoured by packs of unnoticed wolves, so when I lead a hike or go camping or kayaking with friends, I now demand that cell phone usage be reserved only for taking photos or for emergencies. It’s tough love.

You don’t have to brave the wilderness to rescue yourself or a loved one. Just turn off the cell phone.

Sunset from Clarke Island - photo by Ian Conarch

Sunset from Clark Island – photo by Ian Conarch

Those of you who are old enough may recall activities you used to enjoy before the apocalypse struck. Go to a concert, take a dance class, have a beer with friends. Look around. Talk to people who are physically present.

You can save yourself. You can save your loved ones. I urge you to act now, while there is still time to stop the zombie apocalypse.

Of Ski to Sea, Drones, Created Identities, and Scary Corporations

RacetoTruthCoverMy newest book, Race to Truth, is available today on Kindle and Kobo and will soon be out everywhere.The story is a mix of mystery and adventure as my young character Tanzania Grey returns to her hometown of Bellingham, Washington to participate in an extreme version of the Ski to Sea Relay Race. I wanted to explain why I wrote a lot of the elements that are in the book.

First of all, Ski to Sea–it’s an amazing 90-mile relay race that includes cross-country skiers, snowboarders and downhillers, road runners, road bikers, canoeists, cross-country/mountain bikers, and kayakers. How exciting is that! I changed it up a little in my book, of course, and Tana is participating in three legs: mountain run, road bike, and canoe.

There are a lot of drones in this book. They film the race, they spy on Tana at home, they collide with her during a race. I put drones in the story because I find them an interesting development in our society–they have some great uses, but can also be employed for a lot of evil purposes, and how do you fight a drone? I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a rocket launcher in my closet.

My New YA Adventure Book

Practically everyone in this book has more than one name. Tanzania Grey was born Amelia Robinson, as you would know if you’ve read the first book in the trilogy, Race with Danger. She had to invent a new identity because she’s on the run from the killers who murdered her parents. I probably have an obsession with names because as a private investigator, I run into them a lot: people switch first and middle names, create totally new names, etc. and after these names begin to appear on public records, it can get pretty hard to sort out who is truly who.

Finally, Tana begins by investigating the companies her parents worked for, and she is disturbed by hints that something bad may be going on behind the scenes. Now, I realize that all corporations are not bad guys, but I do worry about how many of them have seized control of American media and politics, don’t you?

I hope you enjoy Race to Truth as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Celebrating 2015

I know the New Year is an arbitrary date, but the idea of starting anew with endless possibilities is always exciting for me. I like to take stock of things I did or things that happened to me in the last year. It’s fun to realize that I live a pretty amazing life.

In 2015, I published my first young adult suspense novel, RACE WITH DANGER. I had great fun writing it, and it is currently a finalist in a nationwide contest. I will have the second book in this trilogy completed in a month or two.

Neema Series RibbonsIn 2015, my novel THE ONLY CLUE won the Grand Prize in the Mystery and Mayhem contest, and my novel THE ONLY WITNESS won Honorable Mention in a Library Journal contest (which is a bigger deal than it sounds like).

A couple of years ago THE ONLY WITNESS won a Grand Prize in the Chanticleer Blue Ribbon Contest. Apparently readers like signing gorillas.

I got the rights back to my three Penguin/Berkley Prime Crime mysteries and republished them myself so I could finally make some money from them.NEW Sam Westin Series

Maple Pass, North Cascades

Friends Rae Ellen and Sudsie in Utah slot canyon

Mt Shuksan from Ptarmigan Ridge





I went to Costa Rica with my sister and twelve other great people.

I enjoyed doing things with my mom in town.

With almost zero snow in the Cascades, I spent a lot of time hiking with friends in beautiful places.

Maple Pass Trail, North Cascades


I laughed a lot at my crazy cats.

Leo and Chloe taking it easy on my bed. Ruusky is too dignified to be seen with them.

Life is good.

And 2016 will be even BETTER!

I hope you’re feeling the same way.



I’m So Happy My Publisher Dumped Me

After begging for it for more than nine months now, I finally got the letter from my publisher giving me back my rights to my three Summer Westin mysteries: Endangered, Bear Bait, and Undercurrents. The letter was sent to my agent and called my second book Bear Bath, (their reverence for my work is truly overwhelming). But after I quit laughing, I was ready to party at the good news of being cut loose.

endangeredNo longer being published by a traditional publisher does mean that it will be more of a challenge to get my books into bookstores, so why am I excited to get dumped by my publisher? Three reasons:

  1. The publisher never advertised my books.
  2. The publisher never (to my knowledge, anyway) had a sale or special promotion of any kind to help readers find and try out my books. Ebook prices were kept the same as print book prices.
  3. As a consequence of #1 and #2, these three books remain largely unknown to mystery lovers.

bear baitNow I know that some will be saying, “What did you as the author do to promote these books?”

I have a good website, I appear at mystery conferences, I’ve done local talks and even taken out one paid ad. Clearly it wasn’t enough (see #3 above). But really, how much is an author expected to do to market books when she’s getting only 8% of the cover price six months to a year after the sales?

So, I’m happy to get my rights back, and I’m busy reformatting and updating and getting new covers made so I can get these three books back out to readers as soon as possible.

UndercurrentsMy plans include:

  • Publishing in trade paperback size so the print will actually be readable by a greater number of people.
  • Keeping ebook prices low to match current market standards.
  • Having a sale now and then to increase readership.

Yes, it’s a lot of work to republish. But I’m thrilled to have control of my author career again. Stay tuned, you’ll soon see these three mysteries out on the market again.

Don’t get me wrong; I am always on the lookout for good partners in the bookselling business and I am willing to share profits, but I need partners who will shoulder part of the workload. Till I find one of those, I’ll be a way-too-busy indie author who is finally making money from three more books.

How to Defeat the Zombie Apocalypse

Lately it seems that no matter where I am—shopping in the grocery store, riding my bike through the local park, driving to the library—I find a mesmerized human blocking my path. Head bent over a cell phone, this person totally oblivious to other people, cars, wandering deer, fire engines, rampaging pit bulls—in short, anything that is happening in the real world flowing around the paralyzed victim. This is a cell phone zombie.

Yes, the zombie apocalypse is real. And it is spreading like wildfire. Don’t become a victim. Zombie cell phone disease can be cured if caught in its early stages. All one has to do is occasionally turn off the cell phone. In many cases, the brain can heal itself by experiencing—this includes seeing, hearing, smelling, touching—actual physical surroundings. Exercise helps as well.

View SE from Dock Butte

View SE from Dock Butte

A good example of a healing exercise is the hike I went on last Sunday. A group of us (some are no doubt recovering zombies) climbed to the top of Dock Butte, where we admired the beautiful 360-degree view of the North Cascades, felt the sunshine and breeze on our skin, and actually talked to each other.

Next, we walked to nearby Blue Lake. Two of us dipped our bare feet into the water. I am pleased to report that, after this reality experience, none in the group displayed signs of the zombie cell phone disease.

Experiencing Blue Lake

Experiencing Blue Lake

You don’t have to be a mountain hiker to rescue yourself or a loved one. Simply turn off the cell phone.

Go to a concert, take a dance class, have a beer with friends–whatever you used to consider enjoyable before the apocalypse struck. Make an effort to talk to people who are physically present.

You can save yourself. You can save your loved ones. Act now, while there is still time.

View of Mount Baker from Dock Butte

View of Mount Baker from Dock Butte

Reviews: the Second Best Gift Readers Can Give to Authors

OnlyWitnessCvrRevisedFontAn author’s career can hinge on reviews, so we are necessarily obsessed with them. Nothing warms my lonely writer’s heart more than finding a great review for one of my books on a website.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to get fantastic reviews for my indie-pubbed mystery The Only Witness, including two wonderfully flattering ones from Chanticleer Reviews and Publishers Weekly. I haven’t collected many for my Summer Westin series, because my publisher, Berkley Prime Crime, has done nothing to advertise those books.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????But you never know where you’ll find a gem. I was checking the upload of my new young adult suspense novel Race with Danger on iBooks or iTunes or whatever you call the Apple bookstore (I am obviously not a Mac user and I have to hire someone to format and upload my books there), and I found this ray of sunshine for my oldest book, Endangered.

Love it!!!! * * * * *   
by apopgirl
Love it! It has to be one of the best books I’ve read!

endangeredThank you so much, apopgirl, whoever you are! You made this author’s day.

Most readers don’t realize how important reviews are to authors, especially new authors. The number of reviews affect rankings on bookseller sites, whether or not we can get ads for our books, and just general visibility. Without reviews (or a lot of paid advertising), readers will most likely never find a book, because they simply won’t see it.

I write reviews for all the books I finish on Note that I said “all the books I finish.” I don’t continue to read books that I don’t like or find boring, so I don’t leave reviews for those. Fiction is personal; we don’t all enjoy the same topics or characters. I’m not going to diss a book that someone else may love.

So if you want to support authors, especially indie authors and new authors, take the time to write a review on Amazon or Barnes&Noble or iBooks or Goodreads. The bestsellers don’t need your help, so if a book has thousands of reviews, there’s no need to bother. But with the rest of us, your opinion really counts!

Oh, and why did I say reviews are the “second best gift”? The first is word of mouth. I always tell my friends when I’ve discovered a new author or a great book, and I hope you do, too.

Celebrating the Nearby


I love to travel, but I am very lucky to live in a beautiful place that I don’t have to leave to find adventures.

We’re having an early spring here in the Pacific NW (sorry, NE U.S., I know you’re envious). I’ve been out hiking every weekend in the local Chuckanut Mountains, about 15 minutes from my house. This photo at left is the view of Chuckanut Bay from the beginning of the trail I walked yesterday.

Long ago I read a fantastic book called Your Money or Your Life, all about how to think about money and how much you’ll need, etc. One of the book’s points was that if you can set your life up the way you want it to be, you don’t need to “escape” so often on vacations. So that became one of my goals long ago, and I’m happy to say I’ve achieved it by moving to a place where I can hike and kayak locally. (I love Nature.)

Trees reflected in Fragrance LakeSo these days, no matter what the weather, I try to get out and appreciate what I have in my own neighborhood, whether that’s the intriguing sight of all the bird nests in the bare tree branches as I walk to my local library, the neon lights on the nearby cinema shining through the dark night, the camaraderie of local book lovers and authors at my indie bookstore Village Books, or some of the amazing views I saw yesterday on my local hike (photos here). What’s in your own neighborhood that’s worth appreciating?

Pretty waterfall along Two Dollar Trail
Pretty waterfall along Two Dollar Trail




Why I Wrote a YA Book

My New YA Adventure Book

My New YA Adventure Book

Yes, my new book, Race with Danger, is a bit of a departure for this mystery and romance author. But here’s why I wrote it:

It was fast to write, and these days, you have to publish a lot of books quickly to survive. Young adult books, while dealing with serious subjects, typically don’t have a lot of depth or a lot of description.

Teen books typically have a lot of action–my biggest strength as a writer–and a lot of angst. Race with Danger is written in first person, present tense—a popular combination for many YA books. I thought it might be difficult for me to switch from close third person past tense, but no–the story just seems to flow naturally in the present.

I admire books with strong female characters, especially young ones. I also admire a lot of the teen girls I meet–many are smart, gutsy athletes, and I wanted to honor that in my protagonist.

But Race with Danger is a suspense story, so that’s not a departure for me. And it is also the first book in a mystery trilogy. The ongoing backstory is that my character is trying to solve the mystery of her parents’ murders and find out what happened to her brother.

I’m well into writing the second book of this Run for Your Life trilogy, but I haven’t given up my other series, either–I’ve already begun The Only One Left–the 3rd Neema mystery–and Burned–the sequel to Shaken, and the 4th Summer Westin mystery. I wish I could pack more hours into each day.

10 Questions to Get to Know Someone Fast

Close-up of magnifying glass focusing on two peopleFor years, I have been working on a list of questions that would quickly reveal someone’s history and personality. Think of it like speed dating. Not everyone will agree to be “grilled,” but it’s a fun and informative activity when someone does.

As well as interviewing new acquaintances, these are great questions to ask existing friends and family to learn new facts about them.

Here are my current questions:

1. What childhood accomplishment were you most proud of?

My answer: Buying my horse. I always wanted one but my parents didn’t, so I shut up and saved my money and as a teen, I finally bought my beloved horse.

2. What adult accomplishment are you most proud of?

My answer: Moving from Oklahoma to the Pacific Northwest. I always wanted to live where the mountains and the ocean were close together. I finally screwed up my courage and transplanted myself. I’m so happy I did!

3. What’s one of your fondest memories from your childhood?

My answer: Wandering all over my grandparents’ farm in Kansas. I spent a lot of time observing tadpoles, bugs, birds, squirrels and snakes and communing with cows, which are very peaceful creatures but not exactly scintillating company.

4. If you could bring one person back from the dead, who would it be and why?

My answer: Jesus. I figure that whatever he had to say would settle a lot of religious disputes. NOTE: This question may be too painful for someone who has recently lost a loved one; so you may want to omit or replace it, but the answer can be very revealing.

5. Assume you have a tombstone. What would you like to have engraved on it?

My answer: “She Gave It Her Best Shot”

6. Aside from the basic necessities, what do you need every day to be happy?

My answer: Some time to myself. I tend to go a bit crazy if I’m with people 24/7. My thoughts are my friends, too.

7. Which two positive adjectives do you believe your friends and family would use to describe you?

My answer: One friend called me intrepid, which I thought was the greatest compliment. And many call me resourceful, which I try to be.

8. Which two negative adjectives do you believe your friends and family would use to describe you?

My answer: One of my biggest flaws is that I am impatient; I want everything to happen right away. Another is that I am blunt; I often think I’m being witty or simply honest when others believe I’m confrontational or rude.

9. If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently and why?

My answer: I would be fearless. I spent way too many years doing what I believed I should do instead of what I really wanted to do.

10. Which good books have you read lately?

I stuck in this question because I believe it would be difficult for an author to become good friends with someone who didn’t read at all. Plus, I really like to know what everyone is reading, because like most authors, I am an addict of the written word and always looking for my next ‘fix.’ I read a book or two per week.

Would these be the questions you would choose to get to know someone quickly, or would you want to substitute other questions? I’d love to hear your ideas and opinions.